The Scare Report: Part I

by Jack Diablo
It’s October already?! Well, you know what that means, right? Cooler weather, new selection of seasonal beers and haunted houses. Two out of three ain’t bad.
Welcome to The Scare Report, where I will relay to you, dear reader, my experiences with this year’s selection of Halloween events. In this installment, a road trip to Orlando for Halloween Horror Nights
Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios needs no introduction. The Universal complex is a self-sustaining ecosystem of pure American consumerism and one of those beacons of over-the-top flamboyance that attracts so many curious international guests. Before you even enter the park you feel as though you’ve stepped into a family-friendly Las Vegas where speakers blast the past decade’s Top 40 hits and “spend here” is subliminally coded into every neon logo. Okay so maybe it isn’t quite that intentional but it truly is a site to behold if only to marvel at the obscene amount of work that goes in to running the facility on a daily basis. I guess they do keep Floridians employed, right?
I have to admit, I was pretty stoked about this assignment. Not only did I get to check out what ungodly amounts of production dollars are capable of producing but I got to be a part of the action! In an innovative way to showcase the event from the other side of the velvet curtain, Universal hosted a Media Boo Camp where attendees from the media were given the opportunity to become “scareactors” inside the park. A dream come true!
Upon arrival I was warmly greeted by a PR representative and escorted into a room with the rest of the media. We were briefed on the concept of this year’s event and given a crash course in scare tactics before donning our bloody clothes and heading over to makeup where we were transformed into. . . ZOMBIES!
The good old zombie costume is by far the best costume ever conceived. You can turn anything into a zombie and it works. All you need is some fake blood and maybe a little face paint. But if you’ve ever gotten too carried away with your get-up by attempting to add flair to your costume with various prosthetic nastiness, then you know what a frustrating chore applying that stuff can be. But the fine folks at Universal were pros and had us sporting life-like yet disgusting boils in minutes.
From there we moved into position, the first “scare zone,” a containment area where some terrible chemical has leaked into the population turning normal people into savage, cannibalistic undead creatures. Drowning in thick fog, we attempted to frighten, startle, at the very least, entertain the park’s guests.
You quickly develop an eye for the patrons that are worth the effort. The macho looking dude in the graphic tee and his bro’s are just going to heckle you for not being scary enough (jerks!) but the cowering crowd of 16 year-old girls are going to jump and/or scream every time. It’s amazing really. You can scare the daylights out of them, follow a couple of paces and do it again, over and over. The girls tightly gripping their male escorts’ arms are ripe for scaring too, and the guys are more than appreciative for the assist when their ladies’ tighten those grips.
After two thirty minute sessions, we were released to check out the park for ourselves. You can’t help but come out of an experience like that with the utmost respect for those whose job it is to do this all night. It is physically exhausting just running around and occasionally yelling, not to mention the Florida heat long outwearing its welcome.
Universal Studios as you may know, is the home to all the major monster properties. From Dracula to Frankenstein and the Wolfman, they’ve got the rights to the favorites and they’ve procured a few other modern classics for the occasion. Even though you probably find those black and white “horror” movies more laughable than frightening, you won’t be laughing after you exit these well-produced haunted walkthroughs. The creative team at Universal has taken these identifiable characters and adapted them to satisfy the appetites of a modern audience. The Dracula house, for example, was much closer to the more recent Bram Stoker’s Dracula than the 1931 Bela Lugosi version.
In addition to the iconic horror figures there are also themed houses based on more recent films such as the Saw and Child’s Play movies. Torture porn is scary whether a scareactor makes you jump out of your skin or not and who isn’t afraid of killer toys and psychotic clowns?
While these walkthroughs were visually and conceptually top notch, they lost a little of their effectiveness based on the sheer number of people they have to push through at one time. It can’t be helped really or else the waits would be ridiculous. But the larger than average groups that compose each pass take away from the scare-factor. The houses simply aren’t long enough to ensure that everyone will be sufficiently frightened. The nature of the beast I suppose.
If you scare too easy, are pregnant, or suffer from a heart condition, there is still plenty to do at Halloween Horror Nights. There are several performances to behold including a Rocky Horror Picture Show homage and a Bill & Ted show which was actually quite entertaining although only to those with an intimate knowledge of popular culture. But again, I was simply amazed at the amount of work and production that goes into putting these things together and repeating them every hour. A marvel of human achievement or a colossal waste of power? I’ll let you be the judge.
Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights might be a good distance away and a little heavy on the pocketbook but you really do get a lot for what you pay for. Whether or not the experience ever genuinely gives you the creeps or not, you will be entertained.